Ever since millennials entered the workforce, we've been redefining career goals.
We're the generation that bore the gig economy, social media influencers, and the side hustle. We prioritized flexible hours, self-care and personal satisfaction in the workplace. We believed our dream job was out there if we just kept working to find it . But then, something shifted.
Call it disillusionment or just getting older, but the new millennial career dream is not having a job at all. Blame burnout in the digital age, where work-life balance is nearly impossible; or blame companies like Google and Facebook, who once topped the list of ideal employers before wage gaps, election hacking, privacy infringements and other scandals tarnished their reputations.
Whatever the reason, for some, the dream job has been replaced by the dream of early retirement. Enter the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement—a rapidly growing collective of big-thinkers who are saving to retire by their 30s and early 40s.
Hard work pays offPractical Money Skills
FIRE sowed its seeds on Reddit forums and millennial money blogs—which preach the gospel of 70%, AKA saving 70% of your yearly income for a fixed amount of time. Attempting as much on an average salary involves a lot more than coupon cutting. Every penny saved—through blood, sweat, second jobs and serious downsizing—goes into income-earning investments like low-fee retirement accounts.
It may sound far-fetched, but for some 30-something savers, retirement is already a reality. In September, The New York Times profiled several individuals, formerly employed in tech, finance, creative, and recruiting fields, who have already called it quits on the working world.
While some FIRE folks have had the benefit of hearty six-figure salaries, others have managed to punch out their time cards indefinitely by maximizing more modest salaries. But fair warning: it isn't easy.
Members of the FIRE movement looking to retire ASAP work round the clock and pinch pennies to the extreme—we're talking no dinners out, no movies, no gym memberships, and no life until their retirement finances are in order.
So how much downsizing are we talking about? One couple, Scott and Taylor Rieckens—both in their 30s and earning a combined $160,000 prior to ditching their 9-to-5 jobs—moved their family from California to Oregon to scale back on rent, sales tax, and gas mileage. They also swapped one of their cars for a more cost-effective bicycle. But on the plus side, they no longer work day jobs and have more time to spend raising their child and developing pet projects.
The RieckensThe New York Times
"The whole retire early thing is unimportant to me. It's more about gaining control of your time," Scott, a former creative director, told the Times. "If you dive into the definition of retirement, what you're retiring from is mandatory labor. It's not necessarily about piña coladas on the beach."
Las Vegas residents Joe and Ali Olsen can attest to that. Both began as teachers in 2004, when they decided they wanted to work less and travel more. By taking on extra jobs—from teaching summer school to running fitness programs—they slowly but steadily increased their earnings by about 50% without increasing their spending habits.
Joe and Ali Olsen with their childBusiness Insider
"We kept driving the same cars... We also ate at home, a lot. Eating out was rare, and a treat," Joe told Business Insider in 2017.
The couple continued living on a $20,000-a-year household budget and saving around 75 percent of their combined $80,000 annual income until they accrued enough to buy a rental property. Then they bought 14 more.
"When we started acquiring rentals, friends and family would ask when we were going to move into one of these three-bedroom, 1,800 square feet places, rather than our tiny condo," Joe told Business Insider. "But we were happy where we were. We never felt like we were depriving ourselves, because simple pleasures were enough."
A search of the FIRE Reddit forum, which boasts around 430,000 subscribers, reveals that some of the biggest hardships are letting go of the small indulgences. One user bemoans saying goodbye to craft beer, another gave up bowling. One user misses pizza delivery the most, while a few gear-heads have traded in their prized wheels for used cars. But many agree that a life without Starbucks and gym memberships is worth the long-term independence.
While there's no precise formula for extremely early retirement, there are some hacks to get started, including setting up auto-recurring bank transfers that withdraws money at set times depending on your paychecks, so that portions are allotted to checking, savings and investments automatically.
"When it comes to investing, the most common investment strategy of FIRE folks is to max out traditional IRAs and 401(k)s and put the remainder of their money in low fee index funds," notes Vice's Shomari Wills, who covered the phenomenon back in June. "Compounding interest helps the money pile up faster."
Then there are the bargain-basement tricks that the Reddit community shares with each-other—from renting video games at the library, to coupon-ing, and maximizing credit card points and other hacks.
Every penny counts www.valpak.com
But for all the bargain-hunting brags, the journey to financial freedom can take its toll. "Anyone else tempted sometimes to 'give up?'" one FIRE Redditer asked, before describing another taxing day of work and hardcore savings.
"Individuals who retire early are choosing to stop their earned income, which is the greatest defense against life expenses," Hank Mulvihill, a Dallas-based senior wealth adviser warned Marketwatch readers. "This is a decision not to be taken lightly."
One issue with retiring so early is unexpected expenses— think surprise pregnancies or health issues. If emergency money is tied up in retirement funds, penalty fees for early withdrawals will set you back. The precarious state of the healthcare system also makes planning ahead a challenge.
Then there's the issue of putting your happiness on hold in the hopes of future financial freedom.
"Financial independence shouldn't come at the cost of your happiness as you work endlessly and never enjoy the fruits of your labor in fears of derailing your early retirement goals," writes Hank Coleman on Yahoo Finance.
Time to relax amp.businessinsider.com
Remember the Olsens? They have a different take. In 2015, just eleven years after entering the workforce, the couple had saved over $1 million, and decided to quit their teaching jobs in order to travel around the world. While they still oversee their many rental properties, they've gained the flexibility to pursue the dreams they never had time for before. They also keep a blog, Adventuring Along, where they chronicle their travels and offer financial and real estate coaching.
"Teaching was one of our lives," the pair shared on their blog. "We loved it, but we also love our new one of travel and kids. Financial independence gives us the ability to take the risks to explore these lives. Despite loving our jobs, we quit, and couldn't be happier."
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- 7 Things You Can Learn From The FIRE Movement | HuffPost ›
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- The Basics of FIRE (Financial Independence and Early Retirement) ›
Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.
What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.
The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.
There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!
Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.
Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.
That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying
the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.
This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.
Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.
That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?
Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."
In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.
We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.
As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.
What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.
The rising trend of pet-friendly offices is part of the effort to incentivize employees to come back to work in person. Many companies completely embraced the remote-friendly convenience of WFH. Digital nomad culture emerged and “second cities” arose when people exited New York, San Francisco, and LA, and headed to Denver, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh.
But now, employees and employers have a choice to make. The question now is: to return or not to return to the office? This is no longer about forcing employees to commute. Post The Great Resignation, employees feel more empowered to leave in-person positions and seek out remote jobs. So if offices want people to return, they’ve got to do a ton to entice their employees.
Some huge companies with giant operating budgets are not worried. With major perks like shiny facilities and full-service food bars, they feel comfortable requiring in-office work days — even if it’s for a hybrid week. But the solution might be simpler: pet-friendly workplaces.
The Allure of Pet-Friendly Offices
According to the Washington Post, pet-friendly workplaces are becoming a common solution to improve employee morale and appease the rising number of pandemic pet owners. “As offices start reopening and thousands of workers are being called back for the first time in two years, some companies are allowing employees to bring their pets. About 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many workers say they find pet-friendly environments an important perk for their new furry family members. A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57 percent of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. Tech companies including Google, Amazon, and Uber plan to continue to allow dogs at their offices, even with their flexible office policies.”
With so many people adopting and fostering since the pandemic, becoming a pet parent is a trend. And to welcome these new additions into people’s lives, it makes sense for some workplaces to welcome them into the office.
After spending unlimited amounts of time at home, many pets grew greatly attached to their “parents” — and pet-parents feel the same about their pets. Rather than keeping them locked in the house while their caretakers head off to work, this is a mutually beneficial solution to the current separation anxiety faced by pets.
Pets have also been shown to boost happiness in pet owners. According to heart.org, “Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.” Most likely, this might have a similar effect on people who bond with animals at work that don’t even belong to them, lending an overall mood boost to the office.
The controversy behind pet-friendly workplaces
However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the prospect. Some would rather keep the office separate from their personal lives. Some are allergic to pets. And some people simply don’t like animals.
Offices considering pet-friendly policies are weighing the pros and cons to keep everyone happy. According to the Washington Post, clear guidelines and communication can increase the chances of success.
“Before making the jump, pet experts say that leaders should first understand whether their employees have interest in, or strong feelings against, having a pet-friendly office. Doing an anonymous survey may allow employees to freely share thoughts on the matter.”
Overall, the key to a policy like this is flexibility. “Be ready to adjust: Above all, pet-friendly offices should be ready to listen and adjust their policies as they go. What works for one office may not work for another, but experts say proper planning can lessen much of the burden.”
Ensure your office is actually suited to the pets you want to welcome. “A well-developed pet-friendly office should be both safe and welcoming to pets. That means companies should consider blocking off areas that could be dangerous to pets as well as making sure pets have access to clean water, food, and places to rest.”
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